Cold kills dozens of Fla. manatees

Image: Manatees gather near the outlet where Florida Power & Light Company (FPL) pipes warm the water, at an inactive power plant undergoing renovation works in Riviera Beach
Dozens of manatees gather near where a power plant's outlet pipes warm the water in Riviera Beach, Fla., on Jan. 7.Carlos Barria / Reuters
/ Source: staff and news service reports

More than 100 manatees have been found dead in Florida waters since the beginning of the year, mostly victims of a nearly two-week cold snap, state officials said Tuesday.

The preliminary cause of death for 77 of the endangered animals is cold stress, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said. They were found from Jan. 1 through Jan. 23.

The Sunshine State saw unseasonably cold weather earlier this month that killed fish and stunned thousands of sea turtles as well as iguanas.

"We are deeply concerned about these impacts on manatees and other fish and wildlife," FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said in a statement.

Officials say the numbers of dead manatees from the cold is a record for a single year. The previous record, set last year, was 56 deaths from cold stress.

"Researchers continue to recover and examine carcasses, so the total is expected to rise; however, the rate should slow down as water temperatures warm," the commission said in a statement.

Manatees tend to look for warmer spots once the water temperature drops below 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Temps were several degrees lower in waters off Florida earlier this month.

Exposure to cold likely contributed to the deaths of several newborn manatees, the commission added.

Several manatees have been rescued from the cold, and researchers continue to respond to reports of distressed manatees, the commission said.

Power plants on the water have also helped out since they often have outlet pipes that warm the waters, attracting large numbers of manatees.

Manatees are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act because of declining numbers over time. The state in 2009 counted 3,802 manatees.